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Good Things May Soon Come: Government Considering Open Access to Public Sector Information

February 6, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

I was only just made aware of the Government’s Draft Consultation Paper on “Digital Economy Future Directions” recently. The first consultation topic is “Open Access to Public Sector Information”. At least they have expressed interest. So I went over to see what EFA had drafted for their submission,

“The Commonwealth should endorse a default set of licensing conditions for intellectual property which it owns that foster re-use of information. The standard licences provided by the Creative Commons project provide an example of how this can be done in a manner which is both (relatively) simple and clear. Standardising these licenses across government not only makes clear that a liberal attitude towards intellectual property re-use is encouraged, it also lowers transaction costs incurred by consumers of the information in understanding the licensing conditions.

The Commonwealth is not a business – it should not be producing information which does not have an intrinsic public benefit, and so there is no imperative to recoup the cost of production of the information (although recouping the marginal costs of sharing the information, which will almost always be very low, may be justifiable). Allowing Australian companies and individuals to further develop intellectual property produced in the public sector can help to stimulate innovation in Australia’s digital economy.”

Electronic Frontiers Australia. http://wiki.efa.org.au/doku.php?id=digital_economy:2009-digital_economy_future_directions_consultation&rev=1233789400, which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 (Australia) licence.

I could not agree more. I particularly agree with a set of (or even just one) government licenses named appropriately. This would simplify things greatly both for the government and the consumers of the material that would be licensed under the licenses terms.

I can’t say I completely agree with the the whole of the consultation paper, but at least they are looking the right direction for open access to public sector information. Lets hope they go along the lines of EFA’s suggestions (as per the wiki). I’m particularly concerned about their plans for ISP filtering, but that’s another story.

The consultation paper also talks about so called “media literacy” which it defines; “Media literacy is a step beyond digital literacy and refers to the ability to critically consume, comprehend and create media in all its modern forms…Media literacy equips school children with the skills to effectively research online … and gives people the capabilities to create their own diverse content and contribute to online communities such as forums and social networking sites”.

I have my own interpretation of “media literacy” but its hard to explain, but I think its something you can only get better at by experience. It says that “media literacy equips school children with the skills to effectively research online”, but this notion conflicts with the systems that are currently in place in NSW. A public school student in NSW using the Internet at their school will never be able to effectively research online. This is because the DET filters the Internet so vigorously that you can no longer research, and when you can find some relevant information you are only getting one side or opinion because the other side is likely blocked (eg. blogger.com & wordpress.com are blocked). The other contradiction is that, at least for NSW public school students they will find it extremely difficult to “create their own diverse content and contribute to online communities such as forums and social networking sites” simply because most forums and social networking sites out there are (or were when I was at school) blocked (MySpace, Facebook, Youtube, along with many other similar sites are all blocked). What makes this worse is that the DET does not publish a list of blocked web sites, there goes accountability and transparency. So the federal government needs to work with the state governments, and then the state governments need to work with school systems such as the DET.

The paper states, “The Digital Education Revolution, a major part of the Australian Government’s Education Revolution, is a vital step in developing the digital literacy of Australian students.” which if I’ve interpreted it right, they are heading in the right direction, they just need to get the DET on the same side.

EFA’s draft submission on their wiki emphasises that current Australian copyright law is stifling innovation, something that I very much agree with. Hopefully the government will not ignore the EFA’s submission.

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